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PR, a little bit of history…

PR, a little bit of history…

By Carole Bersillon, Intern

In some of my former blog posts, I was wondering about the future of PR: how to improve crisis communication, how to use data provided by social media, what trends are driving us. An infography focusing on PR history released by Press Index last February reminded me that PR and communication also have a past that is interesting and inspiring.

At the same time, storytelling techniques seem to know a renewal. The emergence of tools like Storify, applications that tell you the history of streets you are on, or the latest Facebook timeline change allow everyone to create stories from social media content and share it easily and quickly. Storytelling is not new though. People have always been communicating through oral traditions and the transmission of stories. First described as political communication rhetoric by Christian Salmon in his reference book, storytelling is now shaping our daily environment, telling us the stories of organizations and brands (see the Coca-Cola Heritage page or the Airbus Narrative for example, both companies using story chapters, timelines, videos and the figures of iconic fathers to tell their history).

PR use stories. Stories tell history. PR has a fascinating history. Below are four milestones that caught my attention.

In 1807, Thomas Jefferson uses the expression “public relations” for the first time in a speech in front of the U.S. Congress. Talking about finances, he declared “they shall be superseded by a change in our public relations now awaiting the determination of others”, underlining the strong stakeholders’ links and interdependence of with publics.

In 1897, the expression « public relations » appears in the preface of the Yearbook of Railway Literature. For the first time, corporate RP are meant to manage communication between an organization and its audiences.

In 1900, « The Publicity Bureau » is founded in Boston. It is the first PR/press agency. In 1906, it was hired by railroads to help them oppose government regulations.

In 1906, Ivy L. Lee writes the first official corporate press release for the Pennsylvania Railroad to communicate on a train accident and avoid any rumors. His public statement was presented to journalists at the location of the incident and released in the New York Times word for word.

What will be the milestones of the future? A major milestone that was passed a few years ago refers to PR 2.0. I believe we are now in a new area of transformation for PR and only the future will tell us what will make history…


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